A major hurdle — indeed, maybe the major hurdle — facing merchants as they survey the inevitable approach of mobile and alternative payments, is investment in equipment and tools required to accept new payment technologies such as EMV, NFC and barcodes. Point-of-sale equipment can be expensive, as well as difficult to integrate with backoffice systems. Add to that uncertainty about which technologies or solutions consumers will actually adopt, and merchants are faced with some difficult decisions.
Enter Merchant Warehouse. The company is looking to help merchants navigate these uncharted, and increasingly turbulent, payment waters with its Genius customer engagement platform. Merchant Warehouse announced today that the Genius platform, which has been in pilot phase for six months, is now available to any merchant in the U.S. market.
The Genius platform is built on a pretty simple idea: Let merchants accept any kind of payment or loyalty technology from any solution provider. Whether it's an NFC-based mobile wallet from Isis, a barcode from LevelUp or a cloud-based solution from PayPal, merchants should be able to accept it. And that's what the Genius platform does.
But where the Genius platform is, well, genius, is in that it's both flexible and cloud-based. That means merchants simply choose the payment or loyalty solution they want to accept, select an application through the Genius platform, and the application — and the ability to accept that payment method — is pushed to their equipment the next time they receive a software update. Integration is automatic.
The Genius platform is completely agnostic as to POS manufacturer. The company is launching with partners such as Lightspeed and Verifone, but other terminal makers will be able to offer the Genius platform as middleware on their equipment as well.
"Being an early Genius partner has been an important part of our strategy to extend the value of our point-of-sale solution to merchants," said Dax Dasilva, founder and CEO of Lightspeed, in a statement. "When merchants discover that the critical moment at the checkout counter is a powerful opportunity to give customers targeted, money-saving offers, Genius becomes much more than just a universal, dead-simple way to accept payments."
Mobile payments now and later
According to Dan Dufault, Merchant Warehouse executive vice president of sales and marketing, Genius addresses a couple of big concerns merchants have regarding mobile payments. "First, merchants realize they're facing a rapidly shifting payment landscape. And they understand the need to engage with the technology," he said. "[Merchants] know they need to respond to these changers or they may be passed by and have to turn away a paying customer."
But merchants also see the myriad solutions and technologies on the market and balk at the thought that a choice to support a technology or solution equates to a gamble, one that may them supporting a solution that never pans out. "If I'm a merchant," Dufault said, "I don't want to have to place a bet."
What's more, retailers and restaurants know that the choices they're presented with today are just the beginning of what's to come. They don't want to be punished for investing early only to see their equipment rendered obsolete.
Dufault said Genius provides merchants with immediate returns, giving them options to accept mobile payments that are already gaining in popularity, and ensuring that they can accept whatever is to come.
"The core benefit of Genius is that it has a benefit right now," Dufault said. Technologies such as NFC, EMV and QR codes all represent real opportunities for merchants, opportunities that Genius can support. And it will support future mobile payment methods — for instance, when Apple decides to turn Passbook into a real mobile wallet.
In addition to enabling payments, the Genius platform also offers applications that help merchants to engage with customers, allowing them to use the system to run loyalty programs or send discounts and offers to customers.
"The new Genius Customer Engagement Platform means so much more than just being able to accept any type of payment," said Andrew Elegante, the owner of South Bend Brew Werks. The homebrewing supply and equipment company was an early Genius merchant.
"Our shop has many loyal customers that visit us repeatedly, often referring friends," Elegante said. "We now have a way to give our customers targeted rewards through Genius' mobile commerce application integrations, turning what used to be a countertop device at the register into a powerful marketing and loyalty platform for our business."
Founded in 1998 and based in Boston, Mass., Merchant Warehouse provides merchant services and payment solutions to more than 80,000 clients, mostly small and medium-sized business. The company's merchant base skews towards merchants "with two to five lanes," Dufault said. Though he said that interest in Merchant Warehouse among larger merchants is growing thanks to the Genius platform.
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James Wester is a technology writer and blogger with over 15 years of experience in marketing and communications in the technology and payments sectors. Prior to joining MobilePaymentsToday.com as editor he worked as Director of Corporate Communications for Chase Paymentech and ran payment operations for AOL. James has a BA in English from Drury University in Springfield, MO and an MS in IT Management from the University of Virginia.